In bite-sized installments, I shared my testimony: who I was, who I am today—through the unconditional love and unraveling grace of Christ. I told my story this way because to do otherwise, I felt, would ignore the core of who I am. Because I am, first and foremost, a child of God, and a pursuer of God’s Presence. Some have disputed this, or told me I “chose to be gay,” or dismissed me completely. That’s okay. My confidence is solely in Christ.
Well, now, that story is out in the blogosphere for all to read. Here it is, in one continuous post.
My story begins with my conversion. My dad was a worship pastor at a Baptist church in Michigan—but before you think of some judgmental, harsh, dress-code-enforcing Baptist stereotype, hear me out. This church wasn’t about making others adhere to their extra-biblical rules. (And I’m sorry if that’s been your experience with churches in the past.) This church was a group of loving, welcoming people. We had issues, like every church, but for the most part, it was a wonderful, Christ-honoring environment. My home was really no different. The focus was always brought back to Jesus. Before I was born, and periodically after, my family would visit various churches and put on concerts for them. My dad sang and played the piano. My siblings and I would sing. I remember growing up, learning about God, about Him sending His Son as a sacrifice for the sin of mankind. And I remember learning about my own sin, and realizing that I needed to become a Christian just as my parents and older siblings had—with a simple prayer, asking God to forgive me of my sin and give me a deep friendship with Him. One night, while we were staying with my grandparents, I decided I was ready to pray this prayer. My grandpa had us kneel down in the main bedroom, my small frame barely reaching the top of the quilted bed, and we each prayed. But when it was my turn, I told God that I believed He died on the cross, and that He came back to life, and I asked Him to forgive me for my sin and come into my heart. Back then, these words seemed simple, expected from me, but my grandpa recognized the power in that moment, and brought me downstairs to tell my parents what I had just prayed. They were also very happy for me, and I just sort of smiled awkwardly. I knew it was a big moment, but I think even then, I thought we knew this would happen at some point, with me being raised in this home, so is it really a very big deal?
My childhood—and my relationship with God—progressed normally, without many bumps. Physically—externally—everything was fine. Emotionally, though, I was a wreck, for most of the time that I can remember as a young child. When I must have been 8 or 9, I was falsely accused of something very small, and punished for it. I think even before then, I had a profound sense that no one truly loved me or cared about me, and this confirmed it, digging me deeper into this bitter lie. I would lie in bed at night and cry, listing off in my mind all the people who I believed didn’t really love me. It would go something like this. “Dad doesn’t really love me, he might do nice things, but he yells at me. Mom doesn’t really love me, she didn’t care when (my brother) John was being mean to me. Lissy doesn’t love me, she’s too busy with her stuff to think about me. John is just annoyed by me. And Grace(—who was 5 or 6—)will be just like the rest of them when she grows up.” Sometimes I would add in others, or younger siblings as they came along, but always in correct order of oldest to youngest, because of my demented organizational skills. Call me sensitive, call me spoiled—whatever.
When I became a little older—12, 13, 14, and really, continuing on as a returning virus—I found a little solace in the religion of Christianity. This can be dangerous for a young believer, and I later saw the faults in my logic and the arrogance of my lofty goals and ideas. But anyway, I memorized a lot of Scripture, prayed for minutes on end (it was so hard for my wandering child mind), and once even read the entire Bible in the span of ninety days. One passage I memorized influenced me greatly.
“When you face all sorts of trials, you should think of them as wonderful, joyful things, because you know that trials in your life, testings of your faith, produce perseverance. And if you let perseverance finish its work, you will be mature and complete—you won’t lack anything. If you lack wisdom, ask God, who gives generously to all, and he will give it to you. When you ask, though, you must trust God to fulfill his promises, because if you ask God for his will in your life but do not trust him to accomplish it, you are a doubter, you are like a wave in the sea, tossed by the wind. If you’re asking like that, you shouldn’t be expecting anything from the Lord. People like that are double-minded and unstable.”
James 1:2-8, heavily paraphrased
The first few lines impacted me the most, so I would often simply ask God for trials. I think I was so anti-“prosperity gospel” growing up (still am, actually…) that I believed you could only really depend on God to answer your prayers for further sanctification through suffering—all that praying for blessing was wishy-washy, in my humble tween opinion. Oh, goodness, did He give me trials!
Feeling the Presence
In between those two very long seasons, though, there were two or three occurrences that I believe walked me through all of it. Before I fell asleep, lying alone in the dark, I would cry out to God, asking Him if He really loved me, and could He just please show me? And one night, for the first time, I felt His comforting Presence in a way that I never knew I could. I knew that no matter what I said, He would hear me. Imagine that—an audience of the Creator of the universe, up close, His ear attune to the longing of my heart.
Growing up in the midwest, we had our share of snow. For about four months every year, the world seemed to be covered in white blankets, falling upon each other in cleansing layers. I loved it. Many times, I can remember getting all of my snow clothes on and taking a walk while white flakes flew all around me. After I grew tired of walking with all the extra weight, I’d lay in the snow, my body imprinting the perfect shape of me into the ground, and I’d watch the snow as it fell. It was so gloriously comfortable, a cocoon of layers, tucked away in the quiet peace of a snowy afternoon. It is the best image I can think of when trying to illustrate what the Presence of God feels like. It is safety, warmth amidst the cold of the world. It is a divine hug. It is finding oneself in the vast and mysterious image of God. It was, truly, the best thing I ever experienced, and to this day, the one thing I pursue above everything.
I believe God gave me that as a guiding ray of hope for hard times. The memory of it—and my constant pursuit of it—walked me through many seasons when I wondered if I’d ever taste it again.
The real issues began to settle when I was entering into adolescence, as one might expect. Gradually, within the span of about six months, I came to understand that I was, well, not straight. I remember realizing that I was emotionally and physically attracted exclusively to guys, and freaking out about it. I knew I was gay for a few months before I told my parents, but it felt like an eternity. One night, I was listening to a sermon on audio (I’m pretty sure this is the sermon I was listening to), and tears were welling up in my eyes. My dad asked me what was wrong, and when I didn’t seem willing to explain completely, he had me step outside with him to talk about whatever it was. I’m not sure how the conversation went, but he finally realized there was something I had to tell him, but I wouldn’t just say it. He began listing off whatever it could be, and finally, he said the words “same-sex attraction,” and I broke down, nodding my head. He cried too. He gave me a hug. Later that evening, with my permission, he told mom, who came down to my room to talk to me about it. A couple years later, I found out he also called his parents shortly after our conversation.
Back then, the whole issue was framed as a sin problem that I would just have to work through. It was understood that I would resist it, and only ever marry if God gave me the desire for a straight relationship. And that’s how I saw it, too. Still, at the age of 13, this was daunting. Even at that age, I knew I wanted a companion more than I wanted almost anything else. And the idea that I should never hope for that made me even more sad. Despite this, I had a firm belief that if I could feel that Presence of God again, and regularly, consistently—then I would be content. I’d never need a guy because I’d have God and He would be enough.
Coming Out to Siblings
Shortly after coming out to my parents, I also came out to my older siblings. My sister, Elisabeth, who we all called Lissy, took it well. But over the years, it became clear that it wasn’t something she wanted to talk about, especially the more comfortable I was with it. A few nights through the years, I’d sleep on the trundle that rolled out from under her bed, and we’d talk about some boy in her life. But I never felt comfortable even alluding to the fact that I wanted to marry a guy too. I always understood why this was—my attraction to guys was not valid because I was a guy, but her attraction was beautiful and innocent and expected. So I’d root for her, and giggle with her, but I’d never open up, because I knew she wouldn’t like what she’d see. Other times, though, our relationship was a little better, a little less one-sided. Now and then, without words, she’d see the hurt in my heart, and she’d hug me, and I’d cry. And we didn’t talk about it, didn’t discuss the reason why. But I think she knew. And maybe that was her way of comforting me, even when she didn’t want to admit she had a queer little brother.
My older brother, John, was not far behind. I came out to him in a late-night text message—my preferred method of meaningful communication—and he seemed to take it well. Of course, for a long time, he was never able to admit that I was just different from him in this way. He wanted to say I’d end up just like him, wanting a wife and family just like he did. Which I think just points to one of the main reasons hetero people don’t accept queer folks—they don’t understand us. It can be easy, as a queer person, to become embittered toward the hetero population, but their initial reaction is not something you can really blame them for. A white toddler in a white family will be a little confused the first time she sees a person of color, and a man attracted to women will be confused the first time he realizes some men are legitimately attracted to men.
As for my four younger siblings, the oldest of which being around the age of 9 when I first came to terms with myself, I assumed for many years that I would never have to tell them. Of course, if you had asked me, I would have told you, “yeah, I’ll tell them sometime or they’ll just catch on.” But truly, I just thought, hoped, wished, prayed I would turn straight before I ever had to tell them anything. Because no matter how much I denied it being a passing phase—knowing that wasn’t the case—that’s what I wanted it to be, with every bone in my aching, sad body.
Unfortunately, I don’t have many journal entries from this first coming out period, so I can only write what I remember, and my timeline relies mostly on when the few journals I have were written. A few of the episodes in this unfolding story may be out of order, but for the most part, I think I have it down right.
Next came a season of crippling doubt. I never went “full atheist” (whatever that means), but I certainly admitted to being agnostic. In a blog post, I wrote about my struggles with faith and God and asked people to pray for me. I should note that my doubt did not, in any sense, come from a desire to “live any way I like” or justify having a relationship with a guy. It was more about missing the Presence of God in my life and feeling like His absence meant He did not love me. Church friends and extended family members commented on my post, others sent long emails, some met with me over lunch or coffee. And over the next few months, I believe I felt the direct impact of their prayers. Without much really changing on the surface, my faith came back to me, and I’ve never doubted the existence of God since. Somehow, I just know He’s there. I’d come to doubt His love for me, but when it came to the simple fact of His being, that was settled there. I also felt a deep love from my church family that comforted me, and has continued to mean the world to me throughout the years. No matter what I was going through, men and women—from college age to, well, quite old people—were there for me. They didn’t all know my pain, but they’d hug me, ask me how I was doing with genuine concern in their eyes, and often pray with me.
Learning How to Come Out
One summer, I went to a Christian teen conference with my youth group. It was a week of sermons, workshop sessions, games with other teens, and sleeping in a college dorm with a bunch of other guys. Struggling with same-sex attraction often makes this uncomfortable. Not for the reasons you might expect, though. Staying in rooms or cabins with other guys has always felt natural to me, presumably because I’m a guy, and I can’t imagine it being any other way. But being gay has a tendency to change your perspective of girls and women in a way that can often be irreconcilable in conversation with straight guys. When the guys around me would have objectifying, disrespectful conversations about girls, I felt awkward, uncomfortable. I couldn’t add to the conversation, nor did I want to, because the girls they talked about were my best friends. I would often silently judge the guys who would join into such conversations, but I also knew that if I was with a group of girls, talking about a guy in a similar way, I might be more likely to join in.
One person at that conference came to mean a lot to me—Kayla. That’s her real name, because her part in my story is entirely positive. She was on the social media/camera crew for the conference, always on the sidelines or in the aisle, getting videos of the action. I met her in the coffee shop, and we connected quickly. Somehow, without having much serious conversation, we drew together like kindred spirits. As a queer person, even a non-affirming* one, you begin to fine-tune your acceptance radar. You learn the kinds of people you can be open with, and who you have to guard your secret around. Kayla was someone I sensed I could share everything with, and we had a few serious conversations later on in the week. Looking back, I think she was easily the first or second person I met who loved God, saw the Bible as the Word of God, and still accepted me for me—even before I accepted myself for who I was.
Another person I came out to was a youth leader on the trip—Alex. Again, this is his real name, because none of his part in this was negative. One night, he asked if we could take a walk and talk, and of course, I said that was okay. I think I anticipated the question long before it was asked, but I didn’t want to get ahead of him. As we passed by a pond on the campus, he sat down on a bench, and I followed. The conversation came around to what he really wanted to discuss, and he sweetly gave me opportunities to share what was weighing down on me. But I was scared. So, so scared. What if he meant to talk about something else, and I unwittingly gave away this dangerous secret? Finally, he just asked. “Do you struggle with same-sex attraction?” I broke down. I told him everything. He was kind. He offered to be a source of accountability. And this experience—coming out to people who did not accept me, but “still loved” me—was repeated many times, and after a while, it became comfortable. I’d assure them that I did not want to be gay, that I didn’t believe it was right. In turn, they’d feel comfortable with me. (This next part is said a bit sarcastically, bitterly even, but bear with me.) Sure, I was gay. Sure, that was strange to them. But at least I hated myself for that difference. At least I felt slightly othered for that difference. At least I wanted, desperately, to be like them. At least I knew God didn’t love me as much as He loved them. At least I wanted to end my life on a weekly basis, just to end the constant turmoil in my soul. At least the fact that I was gay was never accepted as lovely, beautiful, God-given, God-intended. Because, oh, dear, son, don’t ever imagine that. Don’t ever imagine that God loves you as you are. It’s the devil’s lies.
As that week at the conference came to an end, I happened to have an open conversation with the kid I was rooming with, telling him about a crush I had, a stranger from another church attending the conference, and he decided it was information he could then pass on to his mom and a slew of friends, many in our youth group. Coincidentally, I saw his texts to his mom, and her response communicating harsh distaste. This crushed me. I had never had personal information flung out of my control like that, and it scared me. In addition to this, his mother—and grandmother, for that matter—had been people who showed a lot of love towards me. And to see that this woman would so willingly speak so awfully about me, once she knew I was gay, made me realize people could pretend to be my friend, but if they didn’t really know me, I couldn’t trust their friendship. His mother even treated me just as well when I saw her again, which opened my eyes to the fact that her kindness had been simply on the surface the whole time.
That night, after we had all packed to go home, and everyone else was falling asleep, I walked out into the lobby area, sat on one of the couches, and cried. I cried for the broken trust I knew I shouldn’t have given in the first place. I cried for the reaction I just happened to see, from someone I thought cared about me. I cried for my dangerous, awful secret, now escaped to who-knows-who. And I cried for being me, because really, that was the root of it. I hated being gay, I hated the way people talked about me, I hated feeling unloved by God, I hated feeling alone. I hated myself, with a bitter anguish that gripped my gut whenever I had a chance to think. That night, I fell asleep crying on that couch, and when we woke up, I got in a van with the kid who had so willingly shared my secret.
Back home, I managed to stay in the closet. The mother of this kid was apparently not awful enough to simply take the liberty of telling everyone, but she did take it upon herself to let one of the pastors of our church know, “just so he’d be aware.” Sadly, this is the way many Christians respond. Instead of recognizing the pain of being queer, they decide it is their duty to let others know the danger of having a queer in their midst. My pastor then told my parents, “just in case they didn’t already know,” and neither of these people ever discussed it with me. This was one of my first experiences with a church being so totally un-Christlike. Of course, there were more.
Around this time, I also began to doubt my church’s interpretation of Romans 1 and similar passages in the New Testament. They all agreed that the Old Testament passages could be disregarded for the most part when it came to the Law today, due to Christ’s fulfilling of the Mosaic Law. So while they didn’t bring up the harsher Leviticus passages, they believed that the New Testament’s passages, plus Jesus’ own words regarding the nature of marriage, were enough to condemn homosexuality. They maintained that gay people should be loved just as much as straight people, but they said that if someone was a “practicing homosexual” (whatever that is) living in a “homosexual lifestyle,” (not sure about that either) they could not be treated as a Christian. As if it would somehow come across as kindness, they’d often clarify that they’d treat a heterosexual couple the same way if they were living together. The only difference, of course—which will be pointed out by any gay person you give this lame explanation to—is that an opposite-sex couple can just go get married, and you’ll accept them completely. Whereas a same-sex couple would be forced to break up and cut all ties just to gain your approval and the supposed approval of God. I know I may sound disrespectful or arrogant regarding this issue—I’m intensely tired of dealing with it, and this has produced a lot of snippiness when it comes to the discussion.
I researched the issue, finding that many people said those passages only condemned same-sex promiscuity or prostitution, and this made a lot more sense to me. (And just so you know, I’ve not only read the articles and books on my side, I’ve read most of the articles and books and rebuttals on the other side—I am not simply in need of resources.) Why would God give me the desire for a thoughtful, attractive, wise, loving husband—a desire which came innocently and naturally as a child—if He did not intend to fulfill it? Many Christians tried to compare their own sin struggles to my own, but whenever they did, their analogies fell short. They’d often get to the end of their explanation, smiling at me like a child presenting a recently-glued craft, and I’d almost feel like I was crushing their hopes of an easy fix when I said, “no, that doesn’t really apply.” Many of their analogies didn’t work simply because they ended with an expectation that I would turn hetero at some point, if I just sought God hard enough. I knew this wouldn’t work for many reasons. 1) I had been self-aware of my queerness for a few years, and changing seemed unlikely. 2) Other non-affirming Christians struggling with it (LivingOut.org) didn’t expect God to simply change their desires. 3) I didn’t believe it was God’s will to “heal” me and lead me down the path of normality. I know many of you will disagree with my conclusions about this, and I respect that. I will love you anyway, even if it’s frustrating, because practicing love for others is the second greatest commandment.
More difficult times came, and I only grew more doubtful of what I’d been taught. But I didn’t outright tell anyone that. I think as a protective mechanism, I didn’t discuss it with many people, and later on, I would only admit to doubt, maybe disbelief, but never complete disagreement. Looking back, I think this was also God protecting me. Consider for a moment, how dangerous it would have been for me to come to a place of outright disagreement with my faith community. Not only, then, would I have been a sad gay teen questioning God’s love for me. I would have been a sad, friendless, gay teen, questioning God’s love for me.
When it was the right time, God dried up the sea so that I could walk through it. But if it hadn’t been His timing, I would have likely drowned.
*Affirming, also known as side A: the philosophy that queer people are intentionally and affectionately created by God, and same-sex relationships are just as lovely to God as straight relationships. / Non-affirming, also known as side B: the philosophy that queerness is unnatural and that same-sex sexual activity, romantic involvement, and relationships are abhorrent in God’s sight.
The next summer was especially difficult. My older brother got married the winter before, and my older sister was getting married the autumn after—both opposite-sex marriages. I was deeply jealous, which I knew was wrong. But it wasn’t about them having significant relationships before I could. It was the fact that I was expected to refrain from this for the rest of my life. I was expected to be a celibate (Protestant) monk, dedicated to my cause, while siblings and friends got married and had children. And if I ever tried to have a companion myself, and/or adopt children, I knew none of them would support me. I’d be ostracized from the community of friends that said they loved me the most.
One summer Sunday night, I was especially sad. A good friend and mentor—“Kim,” for the purposes of this story—asked me how I was doing at church. When she got a glimpse of the darkness and pain I carried with me, she began to worry for me. We parted ways, but she texted me later that night, concerned. Finally, she decided to come over to the house, and we walked around my block over and over again, as I cried about my family, and shared my sadness. This was an extremely difficult season. I felt like there was no purpose for living. When everyone else around you is looking forward to or planning their beautiful families, a life of singleness starts to feel bleak. She walked me through it, had me make a short list of people I could call in the darkest moments, and convinced me to tell my family what was going on.
I’ll pause to mention that, the more open I have become to a relationship in the future, the less sad I have become. And it is hard for me to see this as a bad thing. It’s also hard for me not to see it as a gift of light from God, pulling me out of the darkness. Over the years, He opened my eyes to see how wrong my upbringing was about me, and later, I could see His love for me, comforting me when people who claimed to love me—and Him—pushed me away.
Kim also introduced me to another non-affirming gay person—“Ben”—who was about ten years older than me. The three of us met for coffee the morning after my long conversation and walk with her. Talking with him encouraged me in many ways—I never recalled understanding someone as much as I could understand him. We were both lonely, a bit sad, but trying to please God the best way we had been told to—by remaining celibate forever. He didn’t have much in the way of advice, but he encouraged me immeasurably. Our conversations went from long emails back and forth which were CCed to Kim (you never know what the gays are up to), to Instagram DMs (somehow I felt as though these were acceptable before texts were), then texts about my school drama, my family, and his life in a big city. And, the course of our friendship (which continues, to this day, mostly over the Internet) saw both of us, independent from each other, go from totally non-affirming, to being more open to God’s vibrant, accepting love. I’m still deeply thankful for Ben, and all the ways he has been a friend to me and continues to be today.
Just days after that meeting with Ben and Kim, I left to go to summer camp. Every time I went to a new place, with new people, I’d try being straight, doing things I thought were especially hetero to offset my queer aura that seemed to always give me away. I’d try to keep my mouth shut, talk without using my hands, pretend to be slightly awkward around girls and more comfortable with guys, and hold myself in that annoying straight pose. But sooner or later, I would find seven different girls to be absolute BFFs with, and my cover would be blown. Then, the rumors would start, and there was no sense trying to catch up with them.
My counsellor that year was kind, but he didn’t know quite what to say or how to help. It’s hard to be the first gay person someone knows, but I was willing to be the experiment for much of my high school years. I’d often say “yes, my parents know, no, I don’t really believe it’s okay to be gay, like, to have a relationship, and ask any questions you like, I don’t care/I won’t be offended.” Usually, I was more comfortable with people asking me a lot about it, because this way, I had a better idea of what they were thinking. And except for the occasional classic, “when did you choose to be gay?” I was never particularly offended by the questions people had. Anyway, back to the counsellor—we talked about it a good deal one night, staring up at the stars. But his big comparison of choice was, (basically) “well, you see, when I was your age, I was into porn, and I had to have an accountability partner and work through that, and now, I’m doing great. So I think you need to have an accountability partner, and, who knows, you may turn straight.”
The October after that summer, as previously mentioned, my sister got married, 14 days after my 17th birthday. I was doing really well leading up to it, ecstatic for her. But that night, as we were saying goodbye to her, the tears began to flow. I started to think about our late-night conversations, our long, drawn-out hugs, our wonderful, brother-sister moments together. And I felt a deep sense of regret, feeling like she had never really known me for me. I had hidden everything I knew she wouldn’t like, and thus hidden most of myself from her. Seeing her drive away, the rain drenching anything not covered by my umbrella, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to our closeness—and any closeness that could have one day been reached, had I been more open with her.
The day after my sister was married, I sat in a Starbucks with my friend Jake, and he tried as hard as he could to tell me that life was still worth living, that I could be happy one day too. But it’s difficult to convince a gay person growing up in a society like ours that they can be happy and fulfilled without the companion (and, in many cases, children) they so desperately desire. I believe this is the case because of two things. One, our culture is obsessed with romance and love. Even straight people have to battle this push to date and find a significant other when they don’t feel it is Christ’s will at the time. So that’s an issue we must work through. However, the second issue is a little harder to push aside. Because when God gives the desire for companionship, for family, He often intends to fulfill it. And it seems to me quite harmful to tell queer kids that they are not allowed to hope for a non-hetero relationship, when this hope is as natural to them as is the hope of your average teen girl to find a handsome, caring guy to marry someday. Nevertheless, non-affirming Christians often try to encourage us with whatever they can. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciated this. If it weren’t for the encouragement of non-affirming Christians, I may not be here today. But straight people can never understand the kind of pain that gay people go through, and they certainly can’t begin to fathom the kind of pain they have themselves inflicted on us. So, their encouragement comes up short. God used my queerness to teach me that my faith was not dependent on anyone or anything but the blood of Christ and my salvation through that sacrifice. Much of the time, I didn’t see it, but looking back, I realize I was running to people all too often, when I should have been running to God. God loves His queer children just as much as His hetero children; He does not make a distinction. And when I run to Him, instead of listening to what those around me say, He comforts me and encourages my spirit in a way I should have never expected my friends and family to.
I did run to God, over and over. One night stands out to me—I’ll jump ahead a bit in the storyline to share it, but it’s a good representation of the way life was many times throughout those years. I was alone that night, seemingly all of my friends, high school or college age, busy doing something. I would often look for friends to hang out with on weekend nights because the loneliness got to me. But no one was available. So, after writing or doing homework at a Starbucks for a couple hours, I began driving home. It was raining—my life often resembles a gothic novel, with the atmosphere reflecting my inner emotion—and I took a few turns to make the usually 7-minute drive longer. I had met with Kim and Ben the day before, and my thoughts were all spinning around being gay. Which wasn’t a rare occurrence, really—being such a minority often causes someone to think about their other-ness in a way that the majority never has to. As I was driving, I began to pray, crying out to God. So many questions began with why. Why do I have to feel alone all the time? Why am I gay? Why can’t I just be straight? Why’d you make me this way if you hate me for it? Why’d you make Ben this way? Why do all of us have to go through such misery, and on top of it all, be so misunderstood and ostracized by our friends and families? Why don’t you love me? He only ever answered in the quiet thoughts that trickled into my mind, against the raging waters of the evangelical teaching I had been raised with. He would whisper His love for me, but I would push it away. I didn’t believe He could truly love someone and let them be queer. My church tried to say God loved everyone—even queer people. But it is hard to believe God loves you when you are given a set of impossible standards to follow in order to earn or retain God’s love. I should be clear that this is only the impact the church’s words had on me, not the church’s words verbatim, in any sense.
One day, I learned my parents had told my younger sister I was “struggling with same-sex attraction” weeks or months before. I was encouraged, for a moment, in that she had never treated me differently. As I said earlier, though, I never wanted to admit to myself that my younger siblings would ever (need to) know about me. But that idea was shattered by the reality of my sister being a teenager and me not being any straighter. The night my parents told me that, I broke down crying on their floor. They asked me why I was crying, they were confused as to why I would be so emotional about Grace knowing. I answered, “I hate this. I hate myself. I hate being gay. Why did I ever have to be gay?” They tried to comfort me, but they couldn’t. Their beliefs did not allow them to say “God loves you anyway,” for fear that this would come across as acceptance. In their hearts, they really just wanted me to turn straight as much as I wanted to.
Coming out was always difficult. As a non-affirming person, I never knew how to talk about it with secular friends. But I’ve always been open with anyone I’m fairly close with, so I had to navigate this many times. I had one coworker, working at a library, who was a sister at the local abbey, and I didn’t realize it until months after she left. Still, she was one of the first people out in the non-church world with whom I felt comfortable speaking openly. Judy was her name. She’d listen, and give me advice on the issues going on with parents and friends. With her, and several other coworkers, I could just be myself without any judgment, even when I judged myself.
My sophomore and junior years of high school, I went to a sort of one-day school/co-op for homeschooled kids. I loved every bit of it, because I loved people and I quickly made a lot of friends. This presented a whole new group of people I was forced to come out to. For some, I decided when I would tell them, and others, they just picked up on it themselves, often deciding to pass their theory down the grapevine. The difficult thing was discerning the homophobes and the non-affirming folks in a group of conservative Christians. Non-affirming, I could deal with, I respected—I was, myself, mostly non-affirming at that time. But my homophobic friends, I just had to let go. I never wanted to lose them, I tried to continue being friends and keep that part of me from being an issue with them. But usually, they distanced themselves from me after a while. One girl I was friends with was understandably ignorant, but caring, and for maybe a semester we were fairly close. When she got a boyfriend, though, he was uncomfortable with my being friends with her, so out the door I went. I’d like to think I’m upstanding enough that I wouldn’t even consider dating a guy who was homophobic. I’d like to think that my sisters are upstanding enough that they wouldn’t even consider dating a guy who was homophobic.
I constantly had to navigate friendships—usually with girls—in which I was loved and accepted as a person, but not accepted for being gay. These friendships usually worked out fine, but there were moments in which suddenly, they grew uncomfortable with me, and something went awry. That was always frustrating. In my junior year, though, the majority of my friends were completely affirming, and serious Christians at the same time. This made conversation easier, because I didn’t have to pretend to be a little straighter or keep myself from saying a boy was cute. I shared geometry class with two girls who were my best friends that year, and we’d talk about the current drama and usually sit together for lunch.
A straight person can never really understand what it’s like to be gay in high school. You have to learn who you can trust and who’s just going to go tell everyone anything you whisper to them. You have to figure out who knows, who told them, and how they feel about it. Instead of people judging you based on the person you actually are, the general public thought is dictated by one facet of your person. It can get intensely frustrating. I remember my second year, being determined to spread the rumor that I was bi (a common shortening for bisexual, usually referring to someone who is sexually and romantically attracted to both genders). Somehow, this was better than being gay. I thought people might respect me more, if they thought I was attracted to girls. Finally though, I gave up. And I didn’t care what people thought. Some people seemed to avoid me, but mostly, things were okay. I had my fourteen friends, many completely affirming, and I was content.
In hindsight, I see problems in the way I was treated, in the way my parents saw me, in the way I saw myself. Instead of embracing me, telling me everything was okay, telling me God still loved me unconditionally, telling me I could hope for a beautiful, wonderful life just like my siblings did, they let me wallow in the hopelessness of being unaccepted and feeling unloved by God. Maybe if they’d known how I felt, they would have said something. But when it comes right down to it, their ultimate hope for me was heterosexuality. Still is, really. And the sad thing is that, for many queer teens living in evangelical communities, depression, self-loathing, and hopelessness is the most comfortable place, because it’s the place all their friends are comfortable with them being in. Which, whether this is what is meant to be communicated or not, teaches a child that they are broken, and diseased, and cursed, and can only have a lovely, happy life if they turn straight. This leads to a higher rate of suicide in the LGBT community, which evangelicals then blame on the simple fact that queer people are dangerous, God-hating rebels, so of course they’d kill themselves, in fact, maybe that’s God’s judgment on them, maybe everything bad that happens to gay people is deserved. (And of course, if gay people seem happy, they’re deceiving you!) Clearly, these are a bunch of lies that must be silenced if anything is to change.
But through it all, no matter who I lost, God was there. With God’s returning Presence, God affirmed God’s love for me. Me! Queer, doubting, deeply sad Levi. God loved me! And when I really knew that for sure, when I could see God’s hand guiding my path, I realized I didn’t have to care what “Kim” thought of me, or what my old friends thought of me, or what my pastor thought of me, or even what my parents thought. And that is really what a relationship with God is about: putting away fear of man, and embracing healthy fear of God—The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—and now He is at the right hand of our father, interceding for us.”
This is Who we have to love. This is the One we have to fear. And He is lovely, and kind, and warm to us.
God used my queerness to draw me to Godself in a way that not much else could have. I was so dependent on others—even good, Christian people—apart from God, that in order to get me all to Godself, God had to ostracize me from even those people, and teach me to pursue my faith solely as a relationship with God. In addition to this, without my being gay, I’m almost certain I would have been a judgmental nitwit. So, through this journey, which continues to this day, I’m humbled and pulled closer to the side of Christ.
It bothers me that so many people doubt my salvation simply because I have embraced who God made me to be. But we are all on journeys. If you personally feel that you cannot honestly affirm queerness as a part of the world, affectionately and intentionally crafted by our Creator God, I would ask that you treat myself and other queer folks with respect, as you seek out answers yourself and acknowledge the fact that none of us have this all figured out. Thank you for your love, your hugs, your prayers, and your support.
This post was written in August of 2018 and originally published in February of 2019 as seven separate installments. I use He/Him pronouns for divinity throughout this series, but it is important to note that all pronouns, including the singular They/Them and She/Her, are correct.